In July 1968 Oscar Brotman made a triumphant return to Hollywood Park with the opening of the 1,440-seat Lincoln Village Theater. It was located in the Lincoln Village Shopping Center, about two blocks upriver from Brotman’s shuttered and soon-to-be-demolished Tower Cabana Club.
Brotman now had a partner, Leonard Sherman, and in 1968 Brotman-Sherman Theaters, Inc., owned about 15 Chicago-area theaters, making it one of the largest local chains. Eventually they would double that number.
The Last Picture Palace
Reminiscent of Miami Beach Art Deco style, the theater’s brilliant white façade sparkled in the sunlight. Tall neon cursive lettering atop the roof gave the building more height and retro flair. A man recalls being able to see Lincoln Village Theater from the Church Street bridge over the North Shore Sanitary Channel, a distance of several miles. It was the last single-screen movie house of this size built in Chicago, a last attempt at bringing 1920s-era glamour to the movie-going experience.
Lincoln Village Theater was just like downtown, at a time when downtown was no longer just like downtown. The lobby was expansive, luxurious, lit by dramatic wall sconces and a working fireplace. There was a sunken seating area and fancy restrooms. A place to see and be seen.
Inside the theatre, extra-wide aisles led to extra-cushy seats. A wood-paneled balcony structure rose off the main floor. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, thanks to the deeply raked floor.
Here’s how Scott Marks, writer of the Emulsion Compulsion blog, recalls the stage curtain:
“It took five minutes to part and raise the yardage of various gold floor-to-ceiling curtains and travelers that camouflaged the screen.”
No expense was spared on technical specs, either. The theater was equipped with Cine-Focus 35mm and 70mm projection, a ‘Scope screen and full six-channel stereophonic sound.
Movies and more
The opening show was No Way to Treat a Lady. I would have been 12 and my parents were strict about movie content, so I’m guessing I didn’t see it. The same year brought Green Berets, Rosemary’s Baby, The Producers and How Sweet It Is to the theater, but the first movie I truly recall seeing at Lincoln Village Theater was the 1969 comedy, If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium.
For some reason, I really was excited about this movie. Was it the comedy, the adventures travelling through Europe, or just my first movie at Lincoln Village Theater? I have no idea why that movie made such an impression, but I can still see myself studying the poster in the front window of the theater, counting the days before the movie opened.
I also recall seeing Ben at Lincoln Village Theater on my first real date with a boy two years older, who had a car. My mother wouldn’t let me (very strict parents) go out with him after dark, so we saw a matinee. The best movie I saw there, though, had to be the first Godfather movie. I think I saw it three times. In one day.
Lincoln Village Theatre was booked for a variety of acts as well as movies. In December 1968 Chicago’s Royal European Marionette Theatre settled in for a weeklong run of its “Wizard of Oz” play. The Brothers Zim Revue played for two nights. The Barry Sisters, four nights only. Mickey Katz, “America’s favorite Yiddish comedian,” played the Lincoln Village, as did Larry Best and Eileen Brennan. The live closed circuit telecast of the 1970 Cassius Clay-Jerry Quarry fight, one-half of the “Double Dynamite” package, sold out in 45 minutes, at $7.50 a seat. And my family attended services for the Jewish High Holidays at the movie theater–it was rented out by Temple Beth-El, the former West Rogers Park congregation that outgrew its Touhy Avenue building.
Starting in the 1980s, ownership of Lincoln Village Theater changed with the seasons. It was partitioned into three odd-shaped boxes, then demolished around 2000 to make room from the Borders bookstore located on the site today.
Some 30 movie houses eventually made up the Brotman-Sherman empire, including the Carnegie, Lake Shore, Portage, Riviera, Hyde Park and my all-time favorite, the Cinema at 151 East Chicago. There are many, many great stories about Brotman’s promotional efforts and I’ll tell you a few of them later this week.
Sources: Scott Marks’ Emulsion Compulsion, Cinema Treasures. Photo of architectural sketch of from: Lincoln Village Theater Opens Friday. (1968, July 28). Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file),p. e9. Retrieved October 11, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849 – 1987). (Document ID: 646805882). Memory of seeing theater from Evanston.